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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?

Guy W. Farmer

I think President-elect Barack Obama made a major mistake last week when he chose his chief primary opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, as our next secretary of state.

The secretary of state’s main job is to carry out the president’s foreign policy; however, Hillary has her own strongly held foreign policy ideas, and her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, has entangling international alliances that make him a human conflict of interest. If I was charting a new direction in U.S. foreign policy, I certainly wouldn’t want the Clintons to run it. Perhaps Obama’s tough-minded national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, can keep them in line, but I doubt it.

A leading political columnist, David Broder of the Washington Post, shares my doubts about the Hillary Clinton appointment. “I don’t doubt that she could do the job — and do it well…,” he wrote late last month. “(But) Clinton is the wrong person for that job in this new administration. It’s not the best use of her talents, and it’s certainly not the best fit” for President-elect Obama.

I couldn’t agree more.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Clinton said that Obama didn’t have enough foreign policy experience to be president. Now, however, she claims that she will faithfully carry out his foreign policy. I wouldn’t bet on it, especially with Bill Clinton lurking in the background and harboring grudges against the man who defeated his wife for the presidency.

Broder believes that Obama needs a diplomat who will carry out his policies to run the sprawling and demoralized State Department, and not a foreign policy mentor. With foreign affairs expert Joe Biden as his vice president, “The last thing Obama needs is a secretary of state carrying out independently based foreign policy.” Amen!

Conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter in the Reagan White House, has similar doubts about Hillary. “On the face of it, the offering of the secretary of state job to Hillary Clinton is a clever, interesting choice,” she wrote. “But … to invite in the Clintons – and it’s always the Clintons, never a Clinton – is to invite in, to summon, drama that will never end. Ever.”

Noonan said questions will inevitably be raised “about which high-flying oligarch gave how much to Bill’s presidential library” in Little Rock, Ark. In other words, get ready for another Clinton drama in the halls of the State Department, and around the world.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was named commerce secretary as a consolation prize, would have been a much better choice. He has vastly more international experience than Clinton and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, which should be reorganized to make it relevant to the dangerous world we live in.

Obama’s choice for UN ambassador, Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state for Africa, is described as a “liberal multilateralist” who can build bridges to the rest of the world. That’s fine, but there are times when our UN ambassador must defend the best interests of the United States, whether the rest of the world likes it or not.

People who know Gen. Jones well say that he will be an honest broker among competing foreign policy interests and that he opposes nation building and unnecessary wars – a good start. Other members of Obama’s new national security team – holdover Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security secretary, and Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, who served in the Clinton Justice Department – have equally impressive credentials.

I’m particularly pleased that Obama reappointed Gates, who recognizes that the Iraq War cannot be won militarily and wants to roll back the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

Guy W. Farmer, retired back to Carson City in 1995 after a 28-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.